They say if you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. If making people laugh is your favorite thing to do, a career in stand-up comedy may be something to pursue! But breaking into the comedy industry is no laughing matter for anyone, so read on for the ultimate guide for getting stand-up comedy gigs.
Finding your stand-up comedy persona
As you’re starting out on your journey to become a professional stand-up comedian, it’s important to find your voice and brand. You may love John Mulaney or Bo Burnham, but that doesn’t mean their style makes sense for you. They have signature traits to their live performance that is unique to them, and the brutal world of comedy will swiftly call you out if you try to steal someone else’s material or style. When putting together your stage persona at your local venue, think about what makes your friends and fans laugh, what you love about yourself, how you carry yourself on stage, and even your fashion sense. The stand-up comedy industry is crowded, so the more you can stand out as an individual, the better chance you will have in getting future gigs.
Try this exercise!
Take some time to workshop your persona. CreativeStandUp outlined 4 steps for finding your comedic voice.
Step 1: Choose your top 3 comedians and watch their videos.
Step 2: Pinpoint why they are so appealing to you. Ask yourself:
- Why am I drawn to this comedian?
- What characteristics of this comedian would I like my comedy to have?
- What characteristics of this comedian would I not like my comedy to have?
Step 3: Drill down your answers ー don’t settle for generic responses like “He’s funny.” Get more in-depth and look at:
- Their persona – What adjectives would you use to describe them?
- Their material – Serious topics? Silly topics? Observational? Crude?
- Their delivery – Calm? Smooth? Awkward? Scattered?
Step 4: From what you learned about each comic, determine how it relates to your own sense of humor. The goal isn’t to steal their persona, but rather to apply what you like and mold it to work with your personality, experiences, and comedic style.
Your persona and style will likely change over time, but a starting point will make it easier as you begin writing your sets and practicing.
How to write stand-up comedy material
Just like a musician or a band has to write lyrics for their next song, writing material can be the most difficult part of being a stand-up comedian and the most important. Try keeping a notebook or a Notes file on your phone to write down observations or jokes as they come to mind throughout the day. Have a joke that killed in the office break room? Write it down! Observe a silly situation in the line at Chipotle? It could be comedic gold.
Comedic legend Judd Apatow advises that new stand-up comedians “Write every single day. Pick an idea and approach it like a story – find the narrative arc and flesh out your setup. Who are the characters? Where’s the setting? What’s the situation or conflict?” Learn more from Judd’s Masterclass article to help you write stand-up comedy in 6 easy steps.
Research the comedy greats like Jerry Seinfeld or Dave Chappelle to learn more about their process for writing material. You’ll have to crash and burn a few times on stage before knowing what jokes really land with audiences. You should continuously tweak your set and try again. The world of stand-up comedy requires a thick skin and spending your free evenings at open mic night to practice in front of live audiences.
Taking the stage as a stand-up comic
Consider enrolling in a local improv, theater, or even a public speaking class. These can help you get comfortable being on stage and knowing how to think quickly on your feet. Stage fright can cripple even the most confident performers, so get ahead of it with lots of practice.
Rehearse and revise
There’s nothing more important than practicing when you’re striving to be a professional stand-up comic. Remember, when you’re on stage, it won’t be in the calm environment of your own home. Make the setting more authentic with some background noise or live music to mimic a restaurant or club. This will help you get used to staying focused while delivering your set.
Practicing doesn’t just mean rehearsing your jokes over and over. It also means nailing down your physical presence, the pacing of the jokes, and picking up on parts of your set that may need editing.
Record and reflect
Try recording your open mic nights so you can critique where things went right and wrong, because you may be so wrapped up in your nerves that you don’t take note of how the audience is truly feeling. And hey, if you have a great night full of laughs – you have a video for your promo reel!
When you begin performing live at comedy clubs, keep your sets short. Five minutes can feel like an hour if it’s bad material or your delivery is off, so don’t sign up for huge time slots until you’re ready! Reach out to local comedy clubs to learn more about their open mic nights or resources they may have for new comedians.
How to promote yourself as a stand-up comedian
Once you’ve gotten confident in your ability as a comedian, it’s time to get some stand-up comedy gigs! Having a solid marketing plan is key if you want to make it in the gig economy.
Like any business, marketing yourself online and producing effective promotional material is essential for getting standup comedy gigs. Having a strong social media presence is a great first step and an easy way to showcase your material and media and it could get you noticed by a booker or local promoters who could help get you booked for future potential venues and shows. Don’t try to be everywhere though. Pick the platforms that make the most sense for your craft and focus on those instead. Use Twitter to share little bits of comedy with your fans, YouTube to showcase your material, and Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to share those hilarious clips!
⭐ Check out more social media tips for entertainers.
Do the hustle
Once you have some media set up, you can start promoting yourself by contacting local venues to offer your services for events and try to book a live gig. Participating in local performances is a great stepping stone to getting paid gigs.
🎓 Campus events
If you live near a college or university, reach out to their Student Activities Committee to find out how to get gigs for campus events. Be sure to get some information on their sports teams’ stats, rivals, or other things the campus is known for to make your material a hit with students!
🏨 Hotels and casinos
With special events and performances on most weekends, hotels and casinos are great places to book gigs. They may have a process to become a preferred vendor, so try asking how to get on their list. That may require something like having liability insurance or other necessities before allowing you to perform.
🍸 Bars and restaurants
A bit of a no-brainer, but bars and restaurants are often open to entertainers to draw more patrons to their establishments. This is especially true around the holidays, so plan ahead and reach out to the venue owner early to see about getting booked!
🚢 Cruise ships
Entertainment directors on cruise ships know that there’s nothing better than live performances to enhance a vacation! With a stage that often needs to be filled nightly, getting a gig on a cruise ship may be the solution to filling your calendar for a few weeks.
👵 Retirement communities
Senior living communities are an untapped market and fan base for most performers – but these folks are always looking for ways to spice up their free time in retirement! Don’t hesitate to promote yourself to these fun-loving groups.
👔 Trade shows and expos
Trade show attendees can be tough crowds, so exhibitors may be open to booking a live show to help draw people in. And after a day of booth chat, expo planners usually have a nightly event to help everyone wind down and relax! Keep an eye on expos and corporate gigs coming to town so you can snag a trade show gig.
Create a GigSalad PromoKit
One of the easiest ways to promote yourself is to join GigSalad. You can reach new potential clients in your local area (or beyond) who are looking to book stand-up comedians. Your PromoKit will act as your personal promoter by showcasing your best photos, videos, and reviews. Past clients can post reviews to help you land new stand-up comedy gigs. While the dream may be to have your own comedy show special on HBO, why not get paid to perform at local events instead of waiting tables? Clients using GigSalad are looking to book performers for birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, and more.
👉 Pro tip: Remember to manage your booking expectations as you start getting new leads.
Becoming a professional stand-up comedian is no easy feat but with a dedication to both your craft and your marketing, you can make a living doing what you love!
Get more stand-up comedy gigs with GigSalad! Create a free profile today.
Megan is the Director of Customer Experience at GigSalad and has gained 9+ years of insight on what makes a great event on both sides of the booking process. Her favorite things include books, true crime podcasts, coffee, hiking, puns, and making people laugh.